A behavioral specialist helped us break writing and drawing tasks into smaller bits starting in kindergarten. Oscar was rewarded when he finished a step, such as writing his name on the line, with the goal of finishing three steps without refusal or a tantrum. By 3rd grade the tantrums over writing were less frequent but he still needed substantial scaffolding and he used a "break card" when he got overwhelmed. His handwriting was still slow, and he struggled with the generation and organization of ideas, so for longer writing projects he would answer a series of questions created by me or his aide that would "magically" turn into a paragraph when the questions were removed. Or he would dictate entirely to his aide. These pieces tended to be long and rambling but we celebrated Oscar getting words onto the page.
In 4th and 5th grade Oscar started typing and using two programs -- Kidspiration and Co-Writer -- to improve speed and help with organization. His teachers also introduced him to their own organizational tools. My favorite method for research projects was the color-coded index cards. Each color was tied to a specific research question, and Oscar, with the help of his teacher and his aide, would take notes on these cards and then use them to form paragraphs. The process was long and laborious, but he still managed to write decent research papers on Christopher Columbus and Green Day's Billy Joe Armstrong. Even so, we were still working at the sentence level in 5th grade...getting him to write a sentence using the daily prompt was sometimes excruciating. And he certainly was not able to independently write a five sentence paragraph on a topic of choice.
But this year, in 7th grade, we are seeing big progress in organization and independence. This year (with only one anxiety-based tantrum) he managed to write a 900 word novel with plot and characters through the NaNoWriMo project. This year he finally learned how to write a paragraph with an introduction, supporting sentences and a conclusion in a timely manner. This year he came home from school excited to start his homework -- a five paragraph persuasive essay about why HE should be chosen as one of the five students to read an excerpt from his novel at a local bookstore.
"Mom, I have to get started on my essay right away," he said as he got off the school van. "I really want to be chosen to read, so it has to be a great essay." I raised my eyebrows and smiled. Was this really the same kid?
Today, for Mother's Day, Oscar handed me a letter he'd written at school. I know this letter probably started with a graphic organizer on paper or in Inspiration: a main idea in a center circle with supporting ideas in adjacent circles. I know he probably wrote a few rough drafts and passed it to a peer for edits. But I know he did it without a tantrum and I'm betting he came up with his ideas quickly and independently...because he wrote a similar note for his grandmother in ten minutes flat.
Like so many things Oscar has learned to do over the years -- walking, riding a bike, tying his shoes (never mind, we are still struggling with that one) -- it took many many many times the amount of instruction and effort of a typical kid but he was finally able to do it.
Here's that awesome letter, and a picture of us. (He looks pretty proud, doesn't he?)